Friday, December 8, 2017


The leaning pole in this pic is holding electric wire over our new driveway.

It's a weird thing to take a picture of, but I took it to serve as a reminder. I traveled to Zimbabwe and Tijuana in 2017, and both were bold reminders of the blessings we experience here, and thus the need to be mindful of how we are stewarding what we've been given. 

Zimbabwe, where the people are beautifully joyful and full of energy themselves, often experiences blackouts due to unreliable electricity. People don't spend their evenings glazey-eyed over instagram photos or Facebook rants, nor do they spend their time worrying about their electricity; they spend their time with other people, and some of the most amazing citizens of Zimbabwe help others in amazing ways

And in Tijuana, just five miles away from prosperity and reliable systems (electricity, internet, water, road systems), people are hauling water buckets up 15 flights of stairs up the side of a cliff so they can wash a pot and a pan and then themselves. And they are helping elderly women with canes hobble down washed out roads atop mountains. They are sweeping dirt floors and wishing for access to good healthcare. 

And they are celebrating weddings with songs sung over sound systems powered by poles that are barely standing up straight, poles like the one in the picture below. One of our friends told us of a wedding he visited while in TJ. He was trying to remain inconspicuous, standing behind the crowd and leaning on a pole, only to find that the pole began to lean and fall down, pulling wires from above him and then pulling the wires connecting the wedding sound system to power. He was leaning on a wonky electric pole. He and a passerby scrambled to pile more rocks around the pole to steady it and allow the wedding to continue. I'm not even sure many people noticed the incident, to be honest. With poles set using a bit of dirt and rocks, loss of power seems inevitable. 

Lastly, in DRC, where Clementine is from, where we lost two children we had hoped to adopt, and where 31 of 51 children in one orphanage in one community died due to dysentery, caused by unclean drinking water. Unclean water. Clean water is such a gift, and I take for granted every day. 

So the pole here is a reminder to be thankful for what we have, including even the often annoying systems, rules and governments that regulate things like electricity and where we can place a well and how close driveways can be to one another. Sometimes those systems and rules seem ridiculous (and they can be very ridiculous!), but overall we must be thankful for them, because they enable us to have reliable systems in place. 

But the pole is also a reminder that while it is fun to dream and scheme about building an amazing house, we want to be sure our budget allows room to give to others, in whatever way God may ask us to give in the future. We need a bit of wiggle room (very tricky on a pastor's budget anyway, even trickier when trying to build a house for 6+), which means we need to make sure we don't go crazy with additions and upgrades in order to stay within our budget. It would be very easy for me to get carried away and upgrade all sorts of items (flooring, and countertops, and tile, oh my!), but I can't let the thrills of all of the pretty things get in the way of the joy that comes with giving. 

(So if it ever looks like I'm going crazy and upgrading everything over here, remind me of this electric pole.)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

the home front

I mentioned earlier that the original drafted exterior plans for the house we are building were less than stunning. They were good, don't get me wrong, but they lacked a certain modern edge that we would have enjoyed but did not express to the person who drafted our plans. Happily, we have people around us with home-building wisdom who were able to visualize with us and help take it from "ho-hum" to at least "bam." (I apparently don't know how to describe it without using sound effects, but I think you get the idea.)

This is where we started:

We knew when this was drawn up that the stone would probably be placed in different areas and that the front door wouldn't be quite the same and the detail over the garage would be different. Long story short, we knew we had some adjustments to make. We just didn't know what, exactly, those adjustments would be.

Our friend, who is one of the nicest people ever and also a legend in the masonry business, sent our draft to a friend for some suggestions, and he came up with this, which includes minor changes to stone placement and the size of the window in the front left. (Note: Real life colors will be different.) Even with the subtle changes, it's a marked improvement from the original:

Which has now evolved into this, via my spectacularly "advanced" drawing skills using Markup on my phone: 

See the huge difference? Well, maybe it's not huge, but I think I like the depth a dormer could add in that blandish area in the middle of the roof. Sometimes I text our builder and friend, Travis Pirtle of Pirtle Homes, "How much extra would it cost to.....(fill in the blank). I'm asking for a friend." I think he's caught onto my schemes. He says the dormer might have to be a shed dormer instead of a doghouse dormer. I say "my friend" will take what she can get. We will see how that goes, if we decide to go that route. As of now, I like it.

Also, I've REALLY been wanting one of these metal awnings over a window or a garage or something (or everything):


(Source: Screenshot of my Pinterest. Sorry to the original owners of this image.)

Lastly, I'm digging this type of gable accents. I think a natural wood tone like this one would add some subtle natural elements to our exterior, which will feature black window frames. (I like the gable instead of  the vent-looking thing on the drafted plan above, which might have an actual purpose...I don't know.):

Source: Pinterest again. For the win. 

Side note, I SWOON over these garage doors, but they've already been vetoed due to the additional cost involved. As I've mentioned before, I have really good taste. ;o):


See how all over the place I am when comes to overall style? This could get interesting as we actually have to make decisions, particularly when you throw a budget into the mix. My husband, obviously, has a say in all of this, too, but he doesn't seem to love planning this as much as I do. It's kind of thrilling.

(If it's your first time here on the blog, feel free to hop around and learn about us. The blog is severely outdated, but I'm learning that "done" is better than perfect. This has been an adoption blog for a while, but now that "we're done" having and adopting kids for a while (in our opinion), it's been adapted to other things, including home building, apparently. I enjoy having a place to dump my thoughts. Go here for info about the home building process up until now. Go here to read about the most ridiculous year of our lives.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

this new house

Jumping back in with the story of home-building...

We found the perfect spot to build a house, and then we had to pick out a floor plan and have it drawn up pretty quickly in order to get things going. You have to have a floor plan and estimate before getting a building loan started, so there are several steps to building a house that go unseen.

We didn't have a clue about what kind of floor plan we desired. We never really thought we would be building a house (not that I hadn't DREAMED about it). So when this sort of dreaminess all came about I got sucked into the vortex that is Pinterest and then into house planning magazines and then my brain got completely overwhelmed. There was no time for being sucked into vortexes; we still had a lot of packing to do and a temporary housing plan to make and 4 kids and jobs.

So I made a list.

3+ bedrooms with room for expansion later on as kids grow
2+ bathrooms with plenty of sinks for teeth brushing
plenty of storage
biggish kitchen for welcoming guests
opportunity to build an extra bedroom/space for guests (I was once a "random guest" to a sweet family in Kentucky who took in myself and my brand new baby when we were adopting, and I want the chance to offer that sort of hospitality and warmth to someone else in the future. We also might want to offer a place to a college kid or two.)

views to the backyard/land
outdoor entertaining opportunities
laundry on the same level/side of the house as all bedrooms
pantry (big family!)
open floor plan--again for welcoming people into our home
space for kids to go crazy

So we looked around and suddenly saw that our good friends have the very floor plan that would work well for us. Um, everything about it would work. And we needed a floor plan asap in order to get going on paperwork and contracts and everything else. We just didn't have much time to spend perusing.

So I rather awkwardly asked if we could use their floor plan as a basis for ours. We didn't need ours to be as big or as awesome, but we needed it to be as efficient and well-organized as theirs. (And theirs is beautiful, because my friend is an amazing interior designer, so that helped.) They were very gracious to allow us to use theirs as a guide, and we took it in for some adjustments in size and minor features and we were ready to go with this:

(This is not the first time we have jumped on the backs of people who are paving a path. We did this in adoption, too, when we found out friends who were adopting had done all of the research and settled on an agency, we just jumped on board with them. When you see wise people doing something you're going to do anyway, doesn't it make sense to jump in line behind them?)

Unfortunately, we failed to really think through the exterior of the house, which has/had some rather wonky roof ankles and some boring design elements. Our drafting company was good but rather "1990s" so we just didn't really think about the exterior being set in stone, so to speak. Fortunately, we have had some great help and input from a friend who happens to know awesomeness in masonry like the back of his hand, and I think we will eventually end up with a house exterior that says "yummy" not "crummy."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

this land

We planned to make 2017 a laid-back year. (See this post for an explanation of how 2016 was anything but laid back.)

God snickered at our plan. As He often seems to do.

Oh, you think you need a break? I think you can handle this (as He sprinkles on more craziness just to make sure we rely on Him).

As I mentioned the other day (in this post), we loved our old house, but in Spring 2017 we began to realize that we might need something different, not just for our family but also possibly for our church family, our friends, and our extended family.

So, after much deliberation and possibly in disbelief that our house would sell for the price we wanted/needed it to sell, we put it on the market with a high-ish asking price and a bit of a sigh.

Twenty-four hours later we had three offers, one of which was pretty significantly above our asking price. WHAT in the world?

We accepted the offer while somewhat greedily wondering why we hadn't asked for more initially, then sighed again as we tried to figure out our next step. We had been looking around at houses to gauge the market, and we hadn't found anything that would work well for us. The housing market was obviously hot, so our money wouldn't go far to get the kind of house we'd need to support our large-ish family that is growing--physically, size-wise, not body-wise--by leaps and bounds. (Our six-year-old, for example, can polish off a full-size Chipotle burrito in about 7 minutes flat. That's scary. How big will he be and how much will he eat at age 16?!) We couldn't even find a fixer upper to make our own, because now is just not the time for us to tackle that sort of project. (Even thought I would LOVE that sort of project! Maybe next year.)

We had our eyes on some beautiful land in "God's country," as Brad calls it. (Rog, MO, for you locals.) It conveniently backed up to our friends' house, and these were friends who also have four kids, one of which happens to be an African girl, and it would have been an answered prayer for Clementine to see more people who look like her. It would have been dreamy, really.

The land was amazing and in a good location, so we began talking to the owner. He seemed agreeable to an offer at first, but as time dragged on and we never really heard much from him after suggesting we get a survey of the land, the deal just didn't seem "right."

Meanwhile, I went to an open house in "God's country," mostly because I love open houses and am a house nerd. (Someone please pay me to do my dream job and fix up old houses. Ok?) The house wasn't right for our family, but the realtor happened to mention that there were another five acres for sale behind the house.

(The day we first saw the land. I sent this pic to Brad with a "pretty please.")

My mom and I went to check it out. It was good, very good. Five acres set off the road, 5 minutes from town (cutting 25 minutes from our commute to town).

We did the research to determine if we could build there while simultaneously making an offer with the realtor. Our friend knew someone who knew someone who knew the owners (or something like that), and I began "researching" to try to find out if anyone had posted the land or house for sale on Facebook. (Because all good research starts there, right?) I found the owner, then sent a creepy-ish message in which I went through a list of reasons for wanting to buy the land. I now know the owner and am exceedingly grateful she didn't think I was overly creepy or ridiculous for sending that message.

When we didn't have a final answer after a day or so, I literally went to the land to pray. I have never done that sort of thing before (because God hears your prayers wherever, you know?), but I felt that God needed to know that I was nearly certain this was the land He had for us and that I would be very confused if He said no. So I let Him know about it.

Long story short, He said yes, the owners of the land were gracious to accept our offer, and we began the process of researching layouts.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

this old house

An ode--of sorts--to our old house.

This old house:  

It's not much to look at--particularly on the outside--but it held a lot of memories in the almost-six years we lived there.

We brought four babies home to this old house. Our first, who was born in Kentucky, lived with me in a hotel room and then in a basement in Kentucky, then in a basement in Springfun, finally found his first "home" in this old house. 

We redid nearly everything about this old house. 

Painted walls, ripped out carpet. Put in new hardwoods. Ripped out more carpet, acid-stained floors, painted trim, retiled, regrouted, redid an entire bathroom, repurposed a dresser into a vanity, built fences, created a garden, added barn-doored storage, painted cabinets, tore out a deck, changed light fixtures, redid stair risers, added baseboards, painted floors...we changed it all. 

We put a lot of sweat into this old house, and it gave us a lot of memories in return. 

We loved the trees, the garden, the roll of the land, the back deck, the privacy and security. I loved our big master bedroom, the way we could hear our kids snickering in their rooms at night, the peonies in spring and the big maple tree over the sandbox in autumn. 

We loved the craziness of this living room.

I loved other things associated with this old house, too: The busdriver (Roxanne, who Brody inadvertently and continually called "Rocksand") who loved our kindergartener with such great intention when driving him home in the afternoon. Our neighbors across the street who were so great to--and tolerant of--us in our ignorance of cows and building fences and general "adulting." 

After that first baby, we added three more within 5 years. The one upstairs bedroom just wasn't cutting it anymore. This old house began to feel small, not because it was really tiny but because the layout didn't work for our family anymore. We had to put the boys in the basement, not an ideal situation when one of them tends to be anxious. The second bedroom on the main level was grossly undersized for two kids. Our living room didn't hold many people, and the kitchen was extra-small with a bit of awkwardness thrown in, not great for entertaining.

We were no longer driving to two different schools, where we once worked, in opposite directions. Rather Brad was driving 35 minutes in one direction several times a day in his new role, and we weren't seeing much of him because of the meetings at all hours and his inability to get away long enough for the drive. 

We wanted to invite people to this old house, to offer them hospitality and rest and friendship, but often we felt too bad to make them drive all the way out to our house, particularly since we tended to be cramped once they got there. 

We had cows that were driving the neighbors nuts, I'm sure. (We struggled to keep them inside the fence--Insert eye roll.) 

We lost a cat to what I call a "bar fight" in the trees behind us. 

We felt the tug of a move in the future, just "not any time soon." 

We still loved this old house and we weren't quite ready to move, but after mentioning to my uncle (our realtor expert!) that we would sell to one of his clients if they happened to be looking for a place like ours, he mentioned that it wouldn't take much to list it. 

So, we did a few little touch-up projects (finally replaced some flakey gold faucets that were lingering in our bathroom) and put it on the market at a price that was substantially over the recommendation. "We know it seems crazy to list at this price," we said, "but we aren't really ready to move anyway." 

Less than 24 hours later we had 3 offers, one of which was substantially over our substantially-over-the-recommended asking price. 

People apparently liked this old house as much as we did. 

We accepted the offer and moved out less than 30 days later, at which time we blinked and wondered what had just happened. 

We loved this old house. We were sad to leave it. But it was right. God made it pretty clear that it was right. And I'll be back with what we did next. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

the loneliest year

I promised myself I would not be one of those people who write blogs in midst of adoption and then abandon their blogs when their children join their families, leaving their readers to wonder how everything is going with their new children.

But here I am. And I am sorry. But now I understand why parents abandon the blogs when their kids come home.

We have been trying to figure this whole thing out. We have been SO BUSY. Sometimes, we (I) have been so overwhelmed. Please allow me to lay forth for you what our 2016 entailed, why I call it the loneliest year, and why I wasn't on the blog to write about it (even though I probably needed to be here getting my thoughts and feelings sorted out through writing).


Obviously, you know that Clementine came home January 1, 2016 (technically, she began her trip home December 31, 2015, just as we'd been praying for all year long. God is so faithful and detailed; you can read about that here.)

So on January 1, 2016 we had four kids four-and-under in our family, along with a teenager who needed a family to love and support him.

We had a preschooler who was attending school for a few hours every other day. We had a 4-month old who still needed me to feed her at least every 3 hours and who loved to snuggle all of the other hours in the day. The teenager attended school 40 minutes from our house, and one of us drove him to school every morning and picked him up after basketball games late at night. Our 3-year-old got lost in the mix for a while as we tried to rearrange our life and our expectations.

All the while, Clementine tried to figure out what her life had become and what was going to happen next. She couldn't understand our language, and because she clung to Brad I spent many mornings saying, "Daddy i sousou, lisusu." (sp?) ("Daddy will be back again.") She cried and cried the first few weeks, and I often wanted to but didn't have the energy, nor did I let myself feel ALL OF THE THINGS right then because it was all too much and it wouldn't have helped anyway.

Our four-year-old, who was the most easygoing, outgoing and happy kid ever--particularly when playing with Legos or with friends--cried at preschool for the first time one day shortly after Clementine came home. He cried due to frustration over not being able to build well with Legos, his favorite toy. His teachers noticed he was not himself, and who could be with so many changes at home? His tears were obviously not just about Legos. We were all having trouble with such substantial changes.

We had an army of people around us to support us, bring meals, lift us up in prayer, babysit our kids, help us with the Lingala language, provide advice based on first-hand experience, and to allow us to vent and process together. I am SO THANKFUL for them and cannot imagine what it would have been like without them. They were immensely helpful, and they saw us in some pretty wide-eyed moments. In fact, when family friends brought us a meal and stayed to hang out a bit, I spent the entire time apologizing to them that they were forced to see us in such a chaotic and distressed state. If ever people looked like deer in headlights, it was us in the first few months after Clementine came home. (But our friends were so wonderful to act like we were normal and to continue supporting us.)

That said, we were the only ones living in the day-to-day, new-normal, crazy-mornings, exhausted-evenings, redeeming-the-past and making-it-new phase of life, and it was difficult to see how anyone could understand what it was like or how hard it was at times. (Please don't hear me throwing myself a pity party...I often had to renew my mind with Truth to remind myself that there is nothing new under the sun, that others have worked through trauma and managed multiple kids well, that "Lotzes do hard things" [as we tell our kids] and no matter how hard and long the days seemed I was never doing them alone, despite my sorry attempts sometimes to do so.)

At the same time, storms of change were beginning to brew in other aspects of our world.

Our friend who had been battling very aggressive breast cancer for a short but agonizing year--who had prayed for Clementine to come home as much as or more than she prayed for her own healing--lost her hard-fought battle with the disease. We were able to visit her--with our answered prayer, Clementine, in our arms--in the hospital one last time, and as I was feeling guilty and angry that God answered our prayers and for our family and not our prayers for her health, she praised Jesus for answering her prayers and smiled her bright brave smile of joy for us that our family was finally together. She gloated over the life and health and miracle of Clementine while we internally lamented the loss of her life. I don't believe will never meet a more amazing, encouraging, faith-filled and humble woman than Missy in all of our lives. Brad went to be with her family as she took her last breath a few days later, and I spent many bleary-eyed days asking the question with no answer on this side of glory: Why her? Why us?

Our church home was beginning to change, not in a bad way but in a way that is inevitable for a church of its size and demographic. My husband had just joined the staff of our church as a discipleship minister (from a coaching and teaching background and as someone who thought his next step was educational administration, no less), and the contemporary service we were serving was experiencing exponential growth that would not be sustainable much longer. We were essentially a church within a church.

Over several months of prayer and seeking wisdom, church leaders graciously and lovingly made the decision to move our church from within the bigger church to a different location altogether in order to reach more people. My husband became a co-pastor of that church plant (Hill City), and from that decision sprang more work--more nights away from my husband due to numerous planning meetings and such--but also more fruit than I could have ever imagined.

I was not thrilled with the decision to leave the comforts of relationships at our home church to do something new, to plant a church, to go out on a limb and trust that God would sustain us, would provide for four tiny Lotzes and fill the gaps where relationships would inevitably change due to proximity. I was not thrilled to make another change for our kids. We were building strong relationships where we were, and several amazing women at that church were encouraging me and helping me be a better wife and mom. And I knew that a new church would change those relationships because of the need to pour into people in our own church and their need to pour into their own church. I also knew this would be another big adjustment for our kids, and while we've always been a "roll with it" sort of family, I wasn't sure our kids were mature enough to roll with this on top of everything else. But it happened, and I chose to go with it despite my fears and sadness.

Along with that decision came planning meetings at dawn, strategic meetings at dusk, lunch meetings, trips to churches in Texas to learn from others, and video conferences with other pastors around the country. These were necessary things to gather wisdom and create a strong foundation for our church, but these things all meant that Brad was gone A LOT. Brad was still the discipleship minister at our current church while planning for the church plant, which meant he was essentially working two jobs. And we still had 2 brand new babies in our household, 2 other kids who (I can only assume) felt somewhat forgotten, a teenager who needed to be around a man, and one me--an exhausted and limited human with no idea how to make this new normal function like a family.

I tried to go to meetings, tried to do something that could help with the church planting part of life. But my productive time was limited. Tiny Oaklee needed to nurse on a schedule. She needed to have diapers changed. She needed regular sleep. Clementine was still dealing with trauma and needed to be nurtured and loved by me, personally, nearly every minute. I had to earn my keep with her in order to earn her trust, and boy did she make me earn it. She continues to do so. I had to figure out how to do her hair (thank God for the teenager who was living in our house and said, "Um, her hair looks pretty dry. You need to condition it." We wouldn't have known!) Our days were full of meltdowns and misunderstandings and she would often be inconsolable for HOURS out of the day, and I totally and completely incapable of handling it all or meeting her needs with so many other needs to meet.

Our boys were still preschoolers who needed to be reassured that the big additions and changes in our family and world still left plenty of room for them. They still had faults and needs and desires and emotions to maneuver with delicacy but also with firmness due to our limited time and energy (and out love for them).

So we would go to gatherings with friends, to church events, to meetings together as a family, but I would often have to leave early due to any of the multiple needs listed above.

And it was lonely. Leaving parties early because of a newborn mess, dealing with trauma-torn kids, figuring out how to best love a teenager who wasn't technically "ours" but still living in our house and in need of direction and wisdom, or feeling that most people didn't understand the hurt in Clementine's cries or the level of sleep deprivation we were experiencing due to navigating such big changes left a lonely sort of pit in the deepest parts of my soul.

At the same time, we were also initiating a new series of fundraising musical events in Springfield called City Sessions. (Inspired by City Sessions Bentonville and promoting and supporting vulnerable people in DR Congo and in Zimbabwe through Help One Now.) This, too, required hours of planning, meetings, driving to Bentonville (which was inspiring because we met a host of amazing people there who we now call friends), babysitters (my family is THE BEST), and stressing over whether or not we would fail in this endeavor.

Added to all of the new experiences of our family, we also continued to have the day-to-day sorts of issues of any other family. Not to mention what I call "Single Mom Sundays."

When you're a pastor's wife, you're on your own on Sunday mornings. You come to church alone, except for the kids you've bathed, brushed, fed, clothed and possibly carried or pulled to the car with you. You drop kids of in classes, (then you ponder whether or not you should just run away to Target by yourself to spend money you don't really have), you go to the service by yourself, sit by yourself or with some other mother who makes sarcastic comments about motherhood that the two of you can appreciate (I see you Betsy H.).

You try to make conversation and connect with the people of your church while also acknowledging that you need to get your kids from their classroom soon, before their teachers go crazy. You gather your flock and attempt more conversations with your eyes darting here and there to locate kids and make sure they're not being ridiculous and then chasing at least two kids around the lobby area of your church while fearing that others are judging and staring awkwardly because you are a pastor's wife and your should have your junk together. You long to connect with friends for a few moments at church, but you simply cannot manage because you are on your own with a constant mess to deal with. So you just gather your kids and head to your car while trying to keep kids from dying in the parking lot. Then you go home or, if you are brave, out to lunch by yourself with your four small friends while your husband has meetings or meets with newcomers or navigates a sticky situation that one of the church members has found himself in. Obviously, you would be there with him, joining him in ministry if you were able but the kids make that virtually impossible (except in very rare cases), so of course you feel guilty for not doing more in ministry while also realizing that you are serving your family in this season and his work is eternally significant for hundreds of other people, so a few inconveniences are nothing when compared to that.

And you'd better believe that with all of this happening the alone time with my husband was non-existent. We likely had 6 meaningful conversations in all of 2016, and it's hard to converse with meaning with 4-5 kids in the minivan. We were in quite a season of life. (Which is something we acknowledged often, because the fact that it was just a season was an encouragement to our weary souls.)

Um, we also added 3 cows to our crew and Brad became an MSU football chaplain in the Fall 2016, which means that he and a co-chaplain lead chapels and travel with the team for games, as well as meeting with several players and coaches for the important task of discipleship and leadership developmentu. This has been a great opportunity for Brad to influence young men--which he is incredibly talented in and passionate about--and I wouldn't change a thing about his involvement with the team because of the amazing ways God is moving there, but it does take him away from our family even more often than he was before.)

Oh, and I got a job that was meant to be part-time but has nearly turned full-time work-from-home. It's a blessing and a curse because it helps fill the gaps of living on a pastor's salary with 6 mouths to feed, but it also takes a lot of time away from my kids and tends to stress me out at times.

As I mentioned, we have such AMAZING friends and family. We have no idea what we would have done if not for the help of so many amazing people around us. They were there for us, they supported us and prayed for us in the very best ways a village ever could. They hung around, even when all aspects of our crazy were showing. My parents watched kids for hours and hours so we could continue to function and get all of the above done.

But due to the circumstances of 2016 and the speed at which we were all moving, along with the difficult days at home (coupled with the outward cuteness and big pleading, smiling brown eyes that everyone else experienced outside of our home), the loneliness was inevitable and found its dwelling place deep within my soul.

I don't loneliness is inherently bad. For me, it was a time of processing, praying, relying on strength and grace that only a loving Father who knows every detail of my life and saw all of the meltdowns I was managing and all of the insanity we were experiencing could provide. It often wasn't pretty. It revealed a lot of my selfishness. It continues to do so. But ultimately it was good for me.

I'm not certain why I felt the need to write about the loneliest year at this point in my life. I guess I needed to do it for three reasons:

1--Because I still feel that loneliness at times. Life with four kids is nuts. Church life is nuts, with Brad gone A LOT for various ministry activities. (He makes time for our family in other spaces...I am amazed at how hard he works for his family, friends, and church. It's unbelievable, really.) But being a mom is lonely sometimes (AMIRIGHT?!). I'm not able to just pick up and go meet friends (nor are my friends able to do that at this point, either). I don't get out much, and when I am my eyes are still darting to and fro to check on kids. We still experience meltdowns and I'm trying not to beat myself up for not being able to manage and facilitate healing hearts better. I still feel like people don't fully understand the hurts that Clementine has experienced and how those hurts affect the rest of us. So there's still a tinge of loneliness every now and then. But, again, I don't think that's bad. It just is.

2--Because I need to thank our friends and family for sticking with us through the crazy. They're still here. They still invite us--the 6 of us--to their houses and onto their boats and on their vacations. They're insane and awesome like that. And I'm so thankful for their prayers and support and GRACE.

3--Writing helps me process it all. I've known 2016 was lonely for a while now, but I didn't realize how lonely it was until I started writing about it. No wonder it was lonely. It was rapid-fire, no time to talk, hands dirty, child-driven chaos. But it was good.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The wall of WeVana

I've been thinking about that wall. The wall in Musha WeVana. We usually build walls to protect ourselves, to hide what's ours, keep people out. We build real walls of brick and mortar, and we build walls of fake smiles, immunity, silence, "I"m tough," and "Don't bother me." I blame no one for building a wall for protection (I've built them for years), but it's incredibly inspiring to see a wall that protects AND simultaneously allows children to be vulnerable in sharing their wildest dreams. 

Zimbabwe was a trip that, frankly, almost didn't happen for me due to what could have been serious health problems for two grandparents and due to my ability to take amazing gifts and opportunities and turn them into points of stress and anxiety. (Shall I dive into that topic at another time? Maybe, but here's a glimpse into my psyche: I left Brad home for nine days with our four kids. Four kids 5-and-under. The words that carried me through Clementine's long adoption journey rang true again as I left for this trip: "Don't dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." I had to trust that they would be fine and Brad's sanity would remain intact while I was away [and while my mom, 90% of our childcare bullpen, came with me]. He basically had to kick me out the door to catch my plane.)

I didn't--still don't--feel worthy of experiencing Zimbabwe and its people in all of their joy and optimism. The gift of the invite took me by surprise. I had nothing to offer. But for some only-God-knows-why reason I said yes, and I used a large chunk of the money I've earned through hours and hours of working from home to hop on a 16-plus-hour flight to the "house of stones" and the most friendly people you'll ever meet in your lifetime. That money, by the way, was money I maybe should have saved to ensure that my kids can do a few fun things and eat something besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the rest of their childhoods before we have to start selling our body parts for real money to feed them.

But, as I'm learning, that money was never really mine to begin with. What we have was given to us for a purpose. (Also another topic for another time.)

Through prayer and chocolate, I pushed my anxiety aside in the hope and belief that God had a plan for this trip, and now it is with humility and excitement that I introduce you to Musha WeVana and the inspiring, difficult work that is done there for vulnerable children.

We stayed at the home of Pastor John and Orpah, local leaders in Zimbabwe who continually lay down their lives for the children of Musha WeVana and for their church congregation. (John and Orpah were first introduced to me in Doing Good Is Simple, written by Help One Now founder Chris Marlow. Get it on your nightstand for an enlightening, encouraging and challenging read. Also, props to Orpah for being the kind of pastor's wife I aim to be. I immediately had to write Brad a letter committing to pray and encourage more. Ministry is hard work, and he carries the heaviest of burdens with the best combo of humility and strength, but I fail to tell him that as often as I should.)

Pastor John and Orpah (Photo cred: HON)

Pastor John's congregation began financially supporting Musha WeVana, a children's home, when it was struggling to cover costs at the height of a national financial crisis in 2009. Because of the generosity of the people of Pastor John's church, numerous children were clothed, fed, and held close in a time when parents died, struggled to feed other children and cast them away in hopes of something better for them. (I will pause here to say that it is TRAGEDY that parents have to choose which children to feed or even keep in their families. This is a reality that is far too common. Orphan care that seeks to prevent orphans in the first place is the very best kind of orphan care, and Musha WeVana is that.)

Pastor John's church stepped up for them. These were not rich people with money to spare; however, they realized the importance of the mission, thus living out the words of 2 Corinthians 8:2--"for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part."

They became partners in this great mission.

Pastor John's church is still doing this today, giving out of their abundance of joy, and around 80 children are currently being cared for through the work of Musha WeVana, Pastor John and Orpah, their local church, and the Global church through Help One Now. 

I have mentioned the joy of Zimbabwe, the welcoming spirit and the happy hearts. Nowhere is it more evident than it is at Musha WeVana. On that first bright Saturday morning, the kids spilled out of houses, nooks and crannies to greet our van, eager for more adults to hold them, take their pictures, and tell them they're beautiful. House mothers welcomed us and our muddy feet into homes they'd just mopped, and they proudly smiled and showed us the rooms of "their" children. Light spilled out of their gleaming eyes as kids showed us how to play their games and drew in the dirt outside.

Nearly 80 children are organized into family groups with house mothers, homes, clothes, and beds of their own. They're given freshly prepared meals, a place at the table, an outlet for dreaming. All of this is provided for them so they will not just be products of "institutionalization" for the rest of their lives. They truly do have a hope for the future, and that's evident on the wall of a home in the community where they've written their biggest hopes and dreams. Within the walls of safety and protection around the community, this wall stands as a beautiful representation of hope, and their leaders are doing everything in their power to provide them with the support and resources that are needed to help them attain their goals.

This is not an orphanage where babies no longer cry because they've resigned to the fact that no one cares about them. House mothers care for children like their own, and a married couple works with the children to be sure that children see a godly marriage played out before them and have easy access to a father figure. Older children carry young ones on their hips and wipe tears and help babies to not be afraid of strange white women (us). This is no institution, and this is why it's a cause worth supporting.

We worked a LONG time for that smile. 

On our first day, I met the boy I call "Pastor." His real name is Simba, and when we asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he immediately said he wanted to be a pastor, which struck a cord with me because I am married to one. Over the next days, it became clear that he was already a leader in Musha WeVana...young kids seemed to look up to him and he stepped up to draw pictures of American flags, Zimbabwe, maps, and animal prints. He even led them in a spirited and ambitious version of the Dab. We were told that he sometimes preached at Musha and even while we were there I heard him quote scripture with authority and conviction for which grown men, 40-year vets of Bible Study, would have envied.

Myself and "Pastor "Simba. 
And there's Blessing, whom I affectionately referred to as Little Stinker because he was a mess of a boy. He walked over to us with a sad face and acted like he was having the worst day of his life, only to spin on a dime moments later and start running around, poking us and making weird noises into our ears and then sprint away with this big ornery grin spread wide across his face. He was a stinker, and he reminded me of a few little stinkers I happen to know very well in Missouri.

And Nancy, who CRAVED attention and hugs and screen time to see pictures of our world. :o) Who can blame her? It's what most kids her age want.

And there's Ortrude, a bright (in every sense), ambitious college student who was concerned for her country and for her future attending college. She explained the politics of Zimbabwe to me while asking about the political climate in the US and lamenting the upcoming elections of Zimbabwe (that's a story for another day, too). She smiled as she told me her hopes, and when she was called in to help distribute school uniforms, she nodded and went to help, knowing that others had helped in the same way when she was young.

Ortrude, smiling in red, with her friends at Musha WeVana.

We helped distribute school uniforms, backpacks and shoes, and I have never seen kids so happy to be getting school supplies to return to school.

And there's Talent. A grown man now, he was abandoned three times before the age of two. (I will be sharing a video of his story as soon as it's ready, and you don't want to miss it.) He told our Help One Now trip leader that he recently had a dream in which he remembered that many years ago, as a child at Musha, he was writing down his hopes for the future. His dream reminded him that it was Musha supporters that allowed him--even asked him--to dream of his future. "That's why I have a thought for my future," he said. He is now attending college and playing in the band at Pastor John's church.

That brings me to my next point of admiration: The local church. I've already mentioned that Pastor John's church financially supports the work of Musha WeVana, but they don't just throw their money at the problem and wish it away. They warmly invite Musha WeVana kids to church (and the kids will walk long distances in the rain to attend). They pray for the children daily. Several church members are board members for Musha, and many use their talents and skills to serve the needs of that community in some way. 

We attended church on Sunday, and along with the beautiful genuine worship we experienced, my favorite part was that children--all of them, orphan or not orphan--were prayed over by the whole congregation. What a gift. They were held close while words declaring them to be special, loved, cherished, created in God's image, planned, and worthy were prayed over them in ways they could hear, feel and see. The local church has stepped in to love these children in little and big ways, and I was happy to witness just part of their commitment to caring for the vulnerable and cherished.

If you know me or you've read this blog before, you know that I will not paint a pretty picture without telling you about the dirty paintbrushes. Like most stories born out of hardship, Musha has gaps that need to be filled, small hearts that need a great deal of mending, some resources that are still out of reach. And like all great leaders, Pastor John and his people dream big and work hard to meet daily needs. The big dreams come with great vision and wisdom, but they also come with big price tags. His church supports Musha as well as they possibly can (and even more than one would ever think possible), but they are also building a new church building, one that will also serve as a hope center for their community to meet the needs of vulnerable families and individuals in crisis (with the hope of preventing the creation of more orphans). They're stretched thin. Through local support and the financial support of Help One Now and its donors, they're able to help provide for minimal needs, school uniforms, food, shelter, beds and workers to love well. And they do all of this REALLY well.

However, they are dreaming and praying for a vehicle to help find and reunite vulnerable children with their families, take children to school in he rain, bring children to church, and seek medical treatment. They're also dreaming of hiring a dedicated social worker to help children deal with the trauma of losing parents, being abandoned, being abused and gearing up for a hopeful future. They need a new gate, safety equipment and first aid kits. Kids need new shoes. (I can't keep up with the eight growing feet in our house, and I have no idea how they keep shoes on 160 feet!) After years of providing safety and security to hundreds of kids, their houses need major maintenance. (Don't judge me for noticing, but there were some big smells, ok? They're doing the best they can, but even bleach and a tank full of Febreeze won't cover the years of water damage and decay. They need some structural help to get buildings water-tight.)

Help One Now works best through child sponsorships and partnerships. Right now they have around 75 sponsorship slots filled with 300 remaining. (HON uses a 5x sponsorship model for orphans. Read about it here.) With help from Pastor John's church, that means Musha WeVana is operating at half of its optimal budget. They have hopes and plans for the future that include community development and empowerment to projects, all of which will make their community of Marondera and Musha WeVana itself stronger from all angles. Think about what they could do if they were 100% funded!

This is where YOU come in. Sponsorship is $40/month. I realize that's just a drop in the bucket for many of you, but that requires our family to let go of something we enjoy. Forty bucks is two after-church meals at McAlister's for our family (because of the free kids meals on Sundays...boomtown). We have let go of that in order to help one now. For you, $40 might be 8 Starbucks coffees or a nice shirt. Some of you might have to join together with your friends or City Groups (I'm looking at you, Hill City) to make this happen. DO IT. (I might even be able to persuade Brad to shave his beard for your sacrifice to sponsor a certain number of kiddos. Win-win-win!) Can you let go of something to help give hope to Musha WeVana?

Please visit the Musha WeVana sponsorship page to see those bright smiles that shined back at me last week in Zimbabwe. Read through their bios, see what they hope for. Pray about your possible commitment to them. You will find the kids I spoke of above on this page, and if you are looking for a certain type of child with whom you can connect, let me know and I can direct you. 

This will not go away. Don't look to other people to do this work. Become Gospel partners (conveniently Daniel spoke on this last Sunday--Phil. Part 2), people who give generously and joyfully because Christ's love compels us to build the kind of walls that protect and nourish dreams for the vulnerable and (all the praise hands) the formerly vulnerable.

(Read more about this trip from the perspectives of my friends Jenny and Vickie here and here. I haven't read them yet in order to keep my perspective entirely authentic, but I am 99% certain their posts and pics will be 199% more awesome than mine. You're welcome for the tip.)